Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Friday, May 13

L'odeur de la mort
Those Other Scents

Again, I am not a fan of warnings, but today's post may be a bit much for some people.

‘Focus on the bone saw,’ I thought, while mouth breathing. ‘You are no longer an animal. You are no longer human. Focus on the bone saw, follow the markings he’s made for you. Right there. That’s it. Two centimeters above the ear and across the forehead.’

‘Look at the size of this heart,’ the Medical Examiner said, holding up the enlarged heart in his hand. With the other hand he took the bread knife and made a series of cuts like a loaf of bread into the heart, revealing a thickened left ventricle. ‘Long standing hypertension.’

‘Nice,’ I said.

He came around to the head, where I stood, and made a few corrections of my saw work and removed the top of the man’s skull.

Now brains are fragile things. Two days rotting in the heat is a rather insurmountable task for them. When we were kids, we used cold spaghetti and paste for haunted house brains. I thought it was a pretty good illusion at the time.

I had no idea.

This man’s head became a homeless drunk spewing forth unimaginable scents, vomiting up bilious oatmeal, creamy gray colored chunks with flecks and strings of green-black bits.

‘Steady. Steady,’ I thought as his putrid brains slopped around the bucket and down my leg onto my shoes. I swallowed hard and focused on recognizing anatomy. I imagined a deluge of histologic images to distract me from the deluge on my hazmat suit.

But then, the pearl.

‘Look at that,’ the M.E. said. He reached in to the base of the skull, and there, right where the internal carotid artery branches into the anterior and middle cerebral arteries was a blood clot. It was enormous: Nearly the size of a giant gumball. ‘You are witnessing a rare and beautiful thing: a clearly identifiable cause of death. This clot is what killed our friend here.’

There was a sense of glee in the room, but we finished our work and left as quickly as we could.

Despite the excitement, and the thing that started this story in the first place, for nearly a year afterwards, my stomach turned and I had to close my eyes and concentrate on not heaving whenever I got close to duck meat, most cheeses or anything cooked with fennel.

Even today, particular blue cheeses will bring it all back, and I’ll have to actively prevent my brain from putting me back in that cramped putrid room.


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